Winter Meetings Updates: Thursday | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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Winter Meetings Updates: Thursday

By on December 12, 2013

The Brewers enter the last day of the winter meetings with a sudden change of plan. Their first option at first base, Corey Hart, signed an incentive-laden contract to play one year with the Seattle Mariners. According to Tom Haudricourt, the Mariners offered Hart $6 million guaranteed, and $7 million in incentives. On the other hand, the Brewers offered $4 million guaranteed, and $2.5 million in incentives. Obviously, there was little choice for Hart, as the Mariners were determined to outbid any suitors.

[2:00 pm]
All is quiet on the Brewers’ trade fronts, it appears. Tom Haudricourt mentioned the following on Twitter:

As suspected, it appears that any first base move will occur after the winter meetings.

-Nicholas Zettel

[10:00 AM]

Doug Melvin has left the building, but not before having one last chat with the Mets about Ike Davis. While discussions are ongoing (and have been for the past month), it doesn’t sound like Melvin is about to rush into anything, telling Adam McCalvy he’ll stay patient:

“Sometimes, the timing, we don’t control that all the time … I guess you can if you want to overpay or you want to do something stupid, like things that happen early sometimes. I think we’ll get somebody. I’m not overly worried at this time, but that’s my demeanor, I guess.”

James Loney remains a free agent option, but the Brewers are likely bidding against the Rays and Pirates, and most reports have him asking for a three-year deal. For the sake of comparison, Davis is three years younger and has three years of team control left.

– Jaymes Langrehr

[8:15 AM to 8:30 AM]
Today’s meetings started quickly, with the Brewers selecting left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates’ system. Pittsburgh signed Wang in 2011, but the contract was voided after a torn UCL was found during his physical. Wang underwent Tommy John surgery, and did not play in 2012. The Pirates still signed Wang, and he ended up in their system for the 2013 season.

According to Pirates Prospects, he started the season throwing in the 80s, but was working between 90-94 MPH by the end of the season. Jim Callis has Wang’s fastball up to 95, with potential for two secondary pitches.

The Brewers drafted outfielder Kevin Mattison from the Marlins in the Minor League portion of the Rule V draft. Mattison was drafted by the Marlins in the 28th round of the 2008 draft, and he spent the last two years in the PCL. They also drafted Vincent Catricala from Oakland. The corner player (3B-1B-LF in minors) spent the last few years between the Mariners and Athletics AA and AAA affiliates.

-Nicholas Zettel

Morning Update
-Fan reaction to Hart’s loss, especially on social media, was extreme. Fans mostly were anti-Brewers, questioning why the Brewers failed to meet Hart’s demand (or, serve as the highest bidder). On the other hand, some also questioned Hart’s comments about taking a hometown discount. Ryan addressed this yesterday:

It’s generally bad form to criticize players for taking more money, because the sport is a business and teams (and fanbases) don’t generally show much loyalty to struggling players. Still, in this kind of a situation, Hart did repeatedly go out of his way to say he would be willing to accept less money to stay a Brewer, so it seems somewhat fair to at least ask how much of a discount was he really willing to take?

This is an effective question, given the general strength of the Brewers’ offer. In the context of the Mariners’ offer, GM Doug Melvin‘s bid appears extremely low. Yet, Hart is returning from multiple knee surgeries, was just cleared medically last week, and did not play a single game in 2013 (and, realistically, Hart hasn’t played 150 games since 2008, including 130 or fewer games in 2009 and 2011). The Brewers offered a base salary at 40% of his 2013 pay rate, and incentives would bring that to 65% of his pay rate.

Fans have the benefit of seeing a contract offer from the perspective of who they love to cheer for, or from the memories of watching a player. In the sense that Hart is yet another member of the Brewers’ homegrown, competitive core, it is sad to see him go. In this sense, Hart is worth any and every penny the Brewers could have potentially paid him to keep him in Milwaukee. I think we’ll all miss watching him bat in the middle of the order. Yet, even when we have favorite players, we don’t need to gauge their injury risk, or the potential uses for payroll compared to signing a previously injured player. It’s not like the Brewers had 2013 production to gauge, or even a healthy year and production trends to judge; they’re judging the 32-year old, rehabbing Hart against production from his prime. As much as we want our favorite players to stick around, sometimes the benefit of their production might not meet their cost and potential health risks.

-On Tuesday morning, I mentioned the Mariners’ offer of a five-year deal to Nelson Cruz, alongside their elite contract to Robinson Cano. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn’t stop his Wednesday acquisitions with Hart, but also traded for another corner bat and potential first baseman, Logan Morrison. If you didn’t think Zduriencik was all-in on Tuesday, there’s little question after Wednesday about the club’s intentions for 2014. I still can’t shake the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays comparisons for the Mariners, although in the context of the worst-to-first Boston Red Sox, perhaps the Mariners’ front office desires to address turmoil with a pile of money and hopes for a Championship.

-Unfortunately, much of the day after the Hart signing was uneventful. The Brewers continued to be linked to Ike Davis trade rumors, and more prominent talk of free agent James Loney occurred. However, MLBTradeRumomors stated that no answer on Loney was expected until the winter meetings ended. One of the most interesting Brewers-related threads on Twitter last night occurred during the Philadelphia Flyers-Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center:

Perhaps NBC Sports shows some clairvoyance about forthcoming White Sox and Brewers interleague series….a 2014 World Series prediction? (By the way, the Blackhawks are insanely good. Quite an exhilarating club to watch, too. They seem to skate all out, 100% offense, the full game…).

-Perhaps the biggest news — outside of transactions at the Winter Meetings — in baseball regarded home plate collisions. The MLB Rules Committee is banning home plate collisions, which presumably means that umpires will need to enforce particular slides for baserunners, as well as specific blocks for catchers. This is now up for review by the players.

One might wonder whether the prevalence of highly paid catchers motivated ownership to press for this ban. I understand that sports are suddenly facing pressure to take concussions seriously, but money often speaks loudest in professional sports. Ten catchers have signed deals worth $8 million (or more, per year) over the last three years; according to BaseballProspectus‘s Cot’s Baseball Contracts, six catchers have signed deals worth more than $10 million within the last three seasons (previously, only Mike Piazza (1999) and Jorge Posada (2008) could brag about that distinction).

Needless to say, the amount of money owners are investing in catchers is skyrocketing. Perhaps the only other explosion that compares concerns right-handed pitchers, a group that saw massive and frequent pay increases over the last few years. But, the catching contractual explosion is not indicative of all positions. For example, eleven outfielders signed deals worth $15 million or more over the last three years; since 2001, twelve such deals were signed. In short, owners are spending tons of money in general over the last three years, but they are specifically spending more on catchers than they have in the past. (One might counter that although owners have spent more on catchers, they have not necessarily increased the number of three-year+ contracts to catchers. So, the “money-based argument” is not bulletproof).

Health is important. But, one can never forget that baseball is still driven by strong ownership labor impulses. If owners have a handful of lucrative catching contracts to protect, they might be more compelled to act on a home plate collision ban.

-Off the field, news is developing for the Brewers’ highest farm affiliates. The Brewers’ AA farm, the Huntsville Stars might move to Biloxi, Mississippi. A potential sale would be subject to the approval of minor league baseball. On the other hand, the AAA Nashville Sounds could receive a new ballpark, as the Metro Council approved a bond issue. These are issues that will be central to the Brewers’ player development, and it will be worth following the development of both stories and the Brewers’ relationship with both affiliates.

-Nicholas Zettel

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